Mesa Verde

Get your climbing shoes on! This place it whack! An hour or so outside of Durango Colorado is Mesa Verde National Park. It spans over 52,000 acres, 5,000 archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings. The bulk of the park sits at 7,000 ft, with a 25 mile roadway that climbs from the base of the Mesa (Verde), where the Visitor Center is located, to its top. This one mesa top chronicles over 750 years (early 500’s – late 1200’s) of history of the Ancient Pueblo peoples, from mesa top to alcove (cliff) living. It wasn’t until December of 1888 that the abandoned cliff dwellings, specifically the “Cliff Palace”, were “discovered”. Of course the Ute indians, of which the mesa was part of their land, knew full well what was there, but it’s existence and subsequent fame was not brought to light until a rancher, Richard Wetherill came upon it. The Wetherill’s brought several people to this site, to explore and document these magnificent dwellings. Of import, was a Swedish scientist, Gustaf Nordenskiöld. He not only surveyed and studied the cliff dwellings, but pilfered them as well…to fund his studies. At one point he had loaded nearly 2 train cars full of “antiquities” to transport “home” for sale. He was stopped by the authorities for “stealing”, only to be let free, when as he reminded the “authorities” that there are no such laws on the books in which to prosecute him. This tale, amoung others, was the catalyst for the 1906 antiquities protection act. And it was in 1906 that Mesa Verde gained National Park status and protection. On our way into the park, we stopped at the Visitor Center. It is here that much of the artifacts retrieved from the park are housed and studied. It is here, that if you want to explore the cliff dwellings first hand, that you must purchase a $5/person ticket for one of 4 Ranger led tours. It appears that 55 persons is the max for most tours that begin on the 1/2 hour starting May 25 through October 21. As we had only one day at this magnificent park, we chose to tour the “Cliff Palace”, which is the largest cliff dwelling in North America, and believed to not only be living quarters for 100-200 people but a center of civic activity for the area. With tickets in hand we return to our truck and head up the hill presenting our National Park annual pass to the Rangers stationed at the entrance station, otherwise the entrance fee would have been $20. There are two mesa tops that can be accessed and explored, Chapin Mesa (open year-round) and Wetherill Mesa (May – September, weather permitting). While inside the park, there is a campground (Morefield) and the Far View Lodge for those who wish to stay overnight in this day-use only park. Our first stop is at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum located just before the road splits into two one-way only driving loops, the 6 mile Mesa Top Loop and the 6 mile Cliff Palace Loop where two of the Ranger led cliff dwelling tours (Cliff Palace, Balcony House) are located. In the museum we watch an informative movie, and peruse a collection of diaramas and displays of artifacts found at Mesa Verde.

It is here that I compare pictures of the pottery shards I discovered while exploring Peñasco Blanco at Chaco Culture Historic Park.

Soon it is time to head over for our tour of the Cliff Palace. Parking is at a premium, and one is best served taking the first spot one sees, as there is no opportunity to turn around, being a one-way loop.



At the overlook to Cliff Palace we are met by a Ranger, who explains how the tour will work and what we will see. This tour requires the descent of steep, uneven (non- OSHA approved) stairs, and the ascent of two ladders. Disclaimer completed, the Ranger collects our tour tickets one-by-one as we filter through the now unlocked gate that limits access to the cliff dwelling. The route is fairly short and not particularly difficult.


We muster under an alcove before we enter the site. Looking toward the site (pictured below), oddly it seems smaller than it looked from above, and I wonder how 100-200 people could have crammed themselves in here, especially in inclement weather. As we are used to having sites to ourselves for the most part, we find being on a “crowded” tour a little annoying, and not as “adventurous” as the last few days.

This, however, does not take away from how facinating these structures are, and their access is to us.


Adobe “plaster” applied by hand…fingerprints sometimes visible

Closer examination of the walls, some of the adobe “plaster” still remains, but is slowly sluffing off and returning from whence it came. We are told, (and there is evidence) that farming took place atop the mesa, of which the staples were corn, squash and beans. Said crops were then transported back to these “fortress” like structures tucked under cliff overhangs and into alcoves. As the tour concludes, we exit the exact route the inhabitants of this “Palace” used via a ladder to the mesa top. Why the Puebloan people stopped living on the mesa top in “pit houses”, and decided to build these structures is just as much as mystery as to why they climbed upon this mesa in the first place. My theory…to escape attacks from animals with sharp teeth/claws, and more fantastical and imaginative…dragons and/or pterodactyl (Thunderbirds).

After the Cliff Palace tour, we returned to the truck and continued along the Cliff Palace Loop, stopping at turnouts to view additional cliff/alcove housing/villages in differing states of erosion across the mesa from where we stood.

Our binoculars were particularly useful. With still plenty of daylight, we continued to the Mesa Top Loop, on Chapin Mesa where the full spectrum and “evolution” of “housing” that has been found at Mesa Verde.

We take a walk around the floor of an excavated Pit House “common” from 700-950 CE. There is a nearby village of Pueblo style building(s) “common” from 900-1100 CE. As it is getting late, we leave that walk for another time and head back down the mesa, stopping at each of the vistas to search out more dwellings tucked into alcoves and under eroding cliff tops.

45 degrees from edge of mirror is the top pinnacle of Ship Rock…

On our way down, we pass by Far View, and its Lodge, and on this particular day, its name does not disappoint, for the views from Mesa Verde stretch into New Mexico where we can see Ship Rock jutting out on the horizon some 100 miles away. As we make our way down to the bottom of the mesa, we wonder aloud how remarkable a feat it was to build this road, and even more so, how the Ancestral Puebloans came to live upon this particular mesa top. With all of our technological advances, I feel somewhat “primative” compared to the ingenueity and skillsets these ancient peoples employed.

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Road Tripp’n – Southern Ute Nation

From Chaco Culture Historic Park, we return to the NM 550 northbound toward the Colorado border. For the next three nights we will be staying in the RV park at the Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio, just outside Durango Colorado.

Adjacent the Casino is the Southern Ute museum. It has well designed and thought out displays, and tells the story of the area’s Native peoples, specifically the Southern Utes, past, present and future in a “matter of fact” method. It also has a thought provoking display about the north american wolf population and a study done in Yellowstone. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe, not unlike all the other Native American people, were much maligned and thought to be “savages” for their way of life. Contrary to the “European” view of land ownership, the Ute believed that the land “owned them”, and lived in a symbiotic relationship with the land. As a people they pride themselves in being skilled horsemen (having early on “lifted” a few from the “visiting” Spainards). The introduction of the horse was a game changer for the Utes, allowing them to become superior big game hunters and to better provide for their people. The Southern Ute, like much of the Native Americans, were “moved” onto reservations in the late 1800’s. These parcels of land were involved in lengthy and vitrol land disputes with the “Europeans”. Often, the land “given” to the Native Americans was thought to be “surplus” land, considered by the “whiteman” as “useless” to them. In this case, the joke was on them, as underneath this “useless” land was a wealth of minerals, oil, and natural gas. It wasn’t till after WWII, when many of the Southern Utes who had returned from overseas (having fought valiently for the US), that they we able to capitalize on their “buried treasure”. From there, they have rebuilt their nation and are working on recapturing and restoring their native language (Shoshonean) and culture. The dividens from the tribe’s financial holdings (which includes the Sky Ute Casino Resort) are paid out to those having documented 25% Ute ancestory. Unlike some Indian Casinos we have been through, the Southern Ute’s, Sky Ute Casino Resort is remarkably modern and meticulously maintained, evidence of their personal pride as a people and nation. I do not mean this as slight to other tribes or nations, it is just an outward observation in this particular case. The RV park we are staying in has 20 full hook-up sites located immediately adjacent to the Casino. When camped at the RV park, you have full access to the Casino, to include the pool, it’s shower/locker room and laundry facilities. The first order of business once we have checked in and completed our hook-up, is a SHOWER!

Once all cleaned up, we plan out our stay. Seeing that the weather is holding nicely we decide to head to Mesa Verde National Park, and the examination of some serious cliff dwellings, the following morning, an hour drive or so.

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Chaco Canyon – Pueblo Alto Complex

Up early to clear blue skies.  Today’s exploration will be the 5.4 mile Pueblo Alto Complex Loop Trail that takes you past a crazy Chacoan staircase up the side of a cliff.

Map of trail to Pueblo Alto

The trail starts aback of Kin Kletso.

It requires a careful scramble of sorts up a narrow passage to the mesa top.

Once through it, you emerge onto a rocky rambling mesa with exquisite views.  img_20180920_090451654We are the first, and only ones up hiking at this early hour and the rewards are breathtaking.  img_20180920_085040843_hdrThe trail meanders about grinding stone spots and numerous pockets of water left over from last nights rain.

(This reminds us that we should always have our LifeStraws with us on day hikes…just in case.)  We are treated to an overview of Pueblo Bonito.

img_20180920_0921410751Definite signs/scars of an ancient roadways can be seen in the South Gap of the canyon floor.  img_20180920_090230735

An area of what was also an ancient roadway a top this mesa is roped off for “protection”.

img_20180920_094148231_burst001As we move northward the mesa continues to stairstep in elevation (270 ft in total) till we reach the absolute top of the mesa and Pueblo Alto.

The horizon’s view stretches clearly for at least 100 miles.  And again, we have this all to ourselves!  As we are to head out to the Durango Colorado area this afternoon, we do not linger or explore much of Pueblo Alto or New Alto.  The trail continues to our east cirumnavigating elevated rim of the fingers of the canyon.


A sign “Jackson Stairway” ensures you do not miss the precarious steps carved into the canyon’s stone wall.


See if you can find the stairs.  Hint: look for “unnatural” lines

We see not one, but two sets of stairs (one long, the other much shorter), hewn into the rock, no longer viable due to erosion and lower cliff failures.


These people certainly had no fear of heights…or at least falling.


Chetro Ketl

The trail leads over the top of Chetro Ketl where we thought was to be a descent point, only to continue to descend to the lowest part of the mesa top and make a hard right following the contour of the canyon.  Eventually we find ourselves back at the overlook of Pueblo Bonito, and trace the route back to the narrow passage, from which numerous people are now emerging.  We wait our turn, and carfeully make our way back down to the ruins of Kin Kletso.


Unfortunately I slip 3/4 of the way down  to the bottom of trail (about where Paul is in the picture), violently wedging my right foot into and between several rocks causing the lateral tendon (most likely peroneus longus) of my right ankle to “migrate” into an extremely painful and immobilizing position.  Shit!  At least this didn’t happen somewhere in the middle of the hike.  This rarely happens hiking, but generally happens when I try and put my ski boot on, and takes about 5-15 minutes to “relax” and slip back into proper position.  The problem is, is that I have another 40 feet to descend, and am unable to put any significant pressure on my foot without excrutiating (“Hee” breathing) pain (those of you who have been in labor will understand).  Being that I am impatient, and we are to meet my dad in the next 10 minutes, and we have a mile to walk back to the truck, I do my best to ease my way down the narrow rocky trail without setting off too many jolts of halting.  I feel ridiculous.  Once at the bottom, and upon flat terrain, I hobble along with the aid of my trekking poles.  I send Paul ahead to meet up with my dad.  20 minutes later, still hobbling and the tendon firmly out of place, I get to the truck.  Lunch, a chair and a cold beer is waiting.  When lunch is finished, it is time to head out.  We would have liked to spend more time here as well, but we have more territiory to cover.  Off to the Sky Ute Indian Casino’s RV park in Colorado, of which we will use as a “base camp” for further exploration of the four-corners area.  A small herd of elk watch as we exit the park…proving our ears did not decieve us.


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Chaco Canyon – Penasco Blanco


From the Supernova pictograph we follow a “lightly” traveled and sparsely marked circuetous trail to Penasco Blanco, which by far, for us was one of our favorites of Chaco Canyon.  We could have spent the entire day here.  Constantly we survey the cliff and rock faces for petroglyphs and/or pictographs.

img_20180919_134550296We are rewarded with one that we interpret having to do with bears.

img_20180919_140016184We pick our way up to the mesa top of the canyon and ruins of Penasco Blanco.  Per the Park Service no excavation has taken place, and the site is “as is” from when it was first surveyed.


We have this site to ourselves and explore to our heart’s content.


This is not the only site on this mesa

Atop this mesa we all of the sudden have “4G” service.  Paul calls our kids, and checks in with them.  img_20180919_144018523Crumbling walls of similar construction to Pueblo Bonito stand proudly above the mounds of rubble.


Paul finds a perfect doorway.  Several Kivas of various sizes and partially filled with dirt and debris are evident within the compound’s perimeter walls.  Obvious midden sites strewn with shards of ancient pottery surround this site.

img_20180919_151316970I explore the outskirts, where erosion from 100’s of years of rain and wind have laid bare many pieces of ancient “trash”.  For all practical purposes it’s an archeological easter egg hunt.

I examine the particularly interesting pieces I find, and then leave them where I found them.  On the walls of Penasco Blanco we eat our sparse lunch and toast beers that Paul had squirreled away inside his pack.

img_20180919_144546622A perfect picnic!  Soon it is time to head back to the road where we got dropped off, so we can catch a ride back to the campground, or walk the additional 5 miles back to our campsite.


We take a “shortcut”, that leaves us slightly bloodied and muddy.  One would think we’d know better by now.  img_20180919_165422879We arrive just in time for my dad to pick us up.  He had spent the day exploring the closer sites.  Once back at our campsite, we exchange stories and discoveries.  Once again, no sense staying up to see a dark sky, because there is none, as it is filled with the moon.

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Chaco Canyon

Simply amazing, and worth the time and wear and tear on your vehicle. In the morning we are treated to a spectacular sunrise, followed by slight overcast, which is a pleasant surprise and will prove to be beneficial for the day’s exploration.


While we only were able to spend two days here, we certainly got an eyefull. As there was so much to see/experience, I will divide our exploration of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park into “sections”. There are at least nine sites in which to explore: Una Vista; Hungo Pavi; Casa Rinconda Community; Chetro Ketl; Pueblo Bonito; Pueblo del Arroyo; Pueblo Alto Complex; Kin Kletso; Casa Chiquitta; Peñasco Blanco. During our trip, we visited the following sites: Pueblo Bonito, Penasco Blanco, Kin Kletso and the Pueblo Alto Complex. This post will cover Pueblo Bonito. But first, a little history of this area and its historic/cultural significance.


Evidence of peoples inhabiting this canyon area (once under the sea), date back to the 500’s CE. Nearly 400 miles of “pre-historic roads” lead to, or from, this canyon. It wasn’t until the 800’s that serious building of structures appeared to begin, with the 900-1100, marking a great civilization with numerous stone, communal buildings having been erected which lead archeologist and anthropologist (in conjunction with Pueblo peoples tribal oral histories) to believe that Chaco Canyon was a “hub of regional cultures”. It was a center for trade from as far south as central Mexico and far west as the Pacific Ocean. Ceremonies and construction/artisan techniques “originating” from this “center of civilization” are evident in the Navajo and Pueblo clans in the “four-corners” area. As with our visit to Bandelier National Monument (from where it is also believed the clans of the Chacoan People migrated to), lack of water, enough sustain the “masses”, appears to be the reason for the “abandoment” of, and migration from, these sites.

After wandering through the highly informative Visitor’s Center, whose exhibits are in the process of becoming updated/enhanced, we headed to Pueblo Bonito, built in “stages” between the mid-800’s to early 1100’s.

Pueblo Bonito 2018.jpg

So far, it is the largest “great house” ( discovered in this canyon, so far).  In places it stood four stories high, and had at least 600 rooms and 40 Kivas (of varying sizes).

It’s walls are nearly 2 feet thick, straight as an arrow, with perfectly square doorways. Mud motar bonds blocks of readiliy available sandstone rocks.

Some walls are perfectly straight and “smooth” to the touch, even though said walls were plastered with adobe mud and “painted”. Repeating designs using large slabs of sandstone “chinked” with smaller stones placed in the motar, mark particular periods of building, and obviously masonary style and/or technique(s).

Remains of 6″ diameter logs, “imported” from some 60 miles away are imbeded in the stone, marking supports for floors and/or ceiling-roofs.


Wandering this site has elements of the “Winchester Mystery House” in San Jose, California, or even “Hearst Castle” in San Simeon, California, in that no one really knows the absolute purpose/use of each “room”. Through remains and artifacts found in several rooms, of this and some 2000 other sites in this canyon, it is known that rooms served as pens for domesticated turkeys and rabbits, as well as for the making of pottery, clothing, jewelry and general storage.

We wander over, upon and through Pueblo Bonito. The fact that it’s still standing to some extent is a testament to the craftsmanship. The structure was “D” shaped, as were most in this area with an orientation of the face of the buildings to the south, on an East/West axis, in order to gain the most daily sunlight.


A view of Pueblo Bonito from the cliff-top , on the next day’s hike

From here we head down to the trail that begins our “Where’s Waldo” of petroglyphs trail search.

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Los Alamos – “Atomic City”


Los Alamos is a quaint, and during work hours appears to be a “sleepy” city.  If it were not for J. Robert Oppenheimer having vacationed in New Mexico in the 1920’s, and there being a “ready made facility” for immediate housing at the all-boys Los Alamos Ranch School,  this city and its significance to the world would be mute.  Per capita, this city’s inhabitants have to be the largest collection of ridiculously smart people in the world.  The Los Alamos National Laboratory (The Lab), and the Department of Energy (DOE) being the prominent employers.  It was not until we entered WWII, and a urgent letter penned by Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt, about the Nazi regime’s research and closing possibility of creating a nuclearized weapon, that the US became serious about “beating” the Nazis, and weaponizing nuclear energy.  Hence the Manhattan Project and the “birth” of Los Alamos, home of Project “Y” (the weapons portion of the Manhattan project).  Los Alamos was not the only “secret” research facility, as there were other research sites located around the country in Oakridge Tennessee and Hanford Washington, to name a few, all involved in the Manhattan Project.  Incidently, the Project’s name originates from the location (Manhattan, New York) where the “mission” was crafted.  Did you know that two scientists (Harry Daghlian/1945 and Louis Slotin/1946) died from radiation exposure at Los Alamos, and two years prior to that (also related to the Manhattan Project) three others died in an explosion at a Philadelphia Navy Yard .  The Navy yard deaths were not attributed to the cloud of (low level, but toxic) uranium gas (that actually contributed to their deaths) because of the secrecy of the Manhattan Project.  It’s funny how we all know about Three Mile Island, and obviously Fukushima but I’m pretty sure most do not know about Los Alamos or another so named Atomic City, and/or Arco City in Idaho.   Needless to say radioactive material is not to be treated lightly.  The inception of the Manhattan Project to combat the very real threat from the Nazi scientists could easily be considered the “birth” of the nuclear arms race.  The devastation of the bombs, developed at Los Alamos, put an end to WWII.


Little Boy (replica)

Ideally, the first and smaller gun-type fission bomb (Little Boy, August 6, 1945) “should have been enough”, however the Japanese Generals refused to surrender,

so three days later (August 9,1945) a second larger implosion-type fission bomb (Fat Man) was detonated over Nagasaki, effectively ending WWII on all fronts.  Had neither of the two NOT done the trick, we were set for an all out invasion in November of 1945, wherein hundreds of thousands of soldiers (on both sides), as well as significantly more civilians would have, in all probability, died.  Ideally this is the first and the last time such devestating weaponry will be used.  There is plenty of history to examine at Los Alamos.  During the Manhattan project time period, all who worked at Los Alamos were known only by a number and all who lived and worked there had the same mailing address (P.O. Box 1663), and wore picture I.D.’s (no names) with their job title on color coded badges that demonstrated their particular level of “access” throughout the town.  It is said that Sears and Roebuck (that resident workers of Los Alamos ordered most of their supplies from) got suspicious when several baby bassinets were sent to the same address.  Babies born at Los Alamos, during this time period, had PO BOX 1663 listed as their place of birth.  Secrecy was EVERYTHING, but you can learn all about it now at the Bradbury Science Museum.  It not only chronicles the history of the Manhattan Project as it pertains to the Los Alamos site, but also the current studies and current advances cultivated at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, that has partnered with the museum.  The website is also especially interesting, if you want to remotely get your “nerd” on, as it pertains to anything radioactive.  The Bradbury Science Museum is more than about the Manhattan Project as it has four galleries:

Defense (involving Global Security), History (particularly that of Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project), a Research Gallery (Science serving society) and the TechLab, in which I could have spent the whole day feeding my inner “nerd”, and testing my knowledge (no pictures of the  TechLab…too busy “playing” with stuff).  This museum was the only place with historic significance that we were able to visit and be able to make it to Chaco Canyon before night fall.  Even so, our brains hurt by the time we left the museum.  A return visit, a must, as well as the remaining historical sites in the city.

From Los Alamos, it is about a 3 hour drive to the exit (rd. 7900) off the NM 550 to the turn-off (rd. 7950) to Chaco Canyon, or its proper name, Chaco Culture National Historical Park.


Up until the 7950, the road is paved, and then 14 miles out from the park, the road turns to a washboard riddled dirt road.


When we arrive the visitor center is closed, but seeing we have reservations (a must!) we check in with the camphost for direction to our site.  Behind our campground are readily visible ruins from the inhabitants of Chaco canyon.  Ironically, there is a Ranger talk that evening, on the “Night Sky”.  Chaco Cultural National Historic Park is an UNESCO site and an offical International Dark Sky Park.  Even so, we decide to pass…the moon has gotten bigger and brighter.

Time to sleep and prep for the morning and more exploration.  As we settle into bed, the sounds of elk buggeling in the distance is our evening’s lullaby.



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Bandelier National Monument

Seeing it was still rather warm when we went to bed, we had left all the windows in the camper, to include the overhead sky-window, wide open. We awoke to an unusually brisk morning, with the outdoor thermometer reading 43°. No wonder I slept so well. Hot coffee, and a dash over to the restroom to plug in my nearly depleted phone battery was immediately in order. It seems that as soon as we pulled into Bandelier my phone’s battery decided to suck itself dry, which caused a bit O’ panic, not because I need to be “connected”, but because my phone is my main method of capturing our adventures. While I still carry a notebook in which to write (back up plan), I prefer to use my phone as somehow my thumbs have gotten significantly faster than actual handwriting…or at least legible handwriting. My phone is also past it’s two year “lifespan” of what I believe is a conspiracy of “planned obsolescence” with the phone companies, who know pretty much they have you by the short and curlies. But I digress.

So, back to the day’s adventure.

In the midst of drinking our coffee, we spy movement toward the back of our campsite. It’s deer! Quite a few, in fact, not more than 25 yards from us. We watch as they run and frolick back and forth, the does “teasing” the sole handsomely adorned buck (still in velvet), who is literally “chasing tail”. We narrate, as if we have our own NatGeo show, for some reason…in an accent. What are the chances we picked this campsite, and are treated to such a display of nature in “motion”. It doesn’t get much better than this. After a lite breakfast, we fill our Osprey water bladders for the day’s exploration of Bandelier. When using water bladders in our “day packs”, I prefer the *Osprey Hydraulics Reservoirs. They have a hard plastic backing that maintains the bladder’s shape, so it’s not so “lumpy” against your back, especially the small of your back. I am also particularly fond of the magnetic mouth piece. No need to search blindly for the nozzel.

(*FYI, I receive no compensation for products I hightlight. The link(s) I provide for products are merely for your perusal. I normally link to REI, mainly as it is my “go-to” store for most “outdoor” gear purchases, as I have the luxury (and curse) of having not one, but two stores nearby…and I like their shipping and return policy.)

img_20180927_215050996Bandelier National Monument is a 33,750 acre park, adjacent the city of Los Alamos which is located on the Pajarito Mesa, and surrounded by the Santa Fe National Forest, and in its NorthWest corner, Valles Caldera National Preserve. Bandelier was designated a National Monument in 1916 under President Woodrow Wilson. This now designated area, first came to prominence and attention due to its namesake, a Swiss “self-taught” anthropologist, Adolph F.A. Bandelier, who “discovered”, explored and documented the canyon dwellings in 1880. The canyon’s dwellings had long since been “abandoned”, having been inhabited by Ancestral Pueblo people up untill the 1500’s, whereupon it is said that they moved into villages along the Rio Grande, because of a sustained drought. Nevermind that the local Cochiti Pueblo people took him there/here, but I’m glad they did, otherwise sites like these would never have been chronicled, studied and/or preserved.

This morning we will take the Frey Trail, a 2mile, 534 ft descent into Frijoles Canyon where we will peruse a sampling of Ancestral Pueblo people’s dwellings. After the passing of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which protects cultural and natural resources, Judge Abbott, in 1907, built the “Ranch of the 10 Elders” in the Frijoles Canyon where he acted as the “caretaker” of the archeological sites. The ranch was later run by a Mrs. Frey (1925-33). The trail we walk was the only route, for supplies and access into the canyon, prior to the CCC buliding a road in 1933, and so is aptly named for Mrs. Frey.


While we trotted down the trail, my father stayed behind to “organize things” (read…eat a bigger breakfast and most likely take a nap), saying he would meet us later at the visitor center via the park shuttle. Off we trod, over a well worn and established trail with obvious “improvements” courtesy of the Civilan Conservation Corps (CCC). We are constantly amazed at how hearty, lasting and vast these “signature”contributions of the CCC has made with regard to our National Parks. As we toddle along, the descent is gradual, and it is early enough that we essentially have the park to ourselves. As we peer into the depths of the canyon, its ecosystem is in stark contrast to the rust colored, sheer cliffs, from whence we we came. It is remeniscient of our trip to Aravipa Canyon in Arizona. Narrow leaf Cottonwoods, Ponderosa pines, Water Birch and Yucca plants (to name a few), along with assorted other healthy green vegetation line the canyon floor which is bisected by the year long flowing Frijoles Creek, that is currently meandering at a placid pace.


The remains of a partially excavated round-shaped Pueblo archeological site, we later learn is called Tyuonyi (Qu-weh-nee), beckons below our masterfully maintained trail. When we reach the canyon bottom, we have a decision to make. Go left and head to the Visitors Center to retrieve a walking guide pamphlet and/or seek out a Ranger led tour. Or, right turn, toward the “Long House” which is of hand built/carved cliff dwellings, and explore on our own, where we will later compare our observations and subsequent “theories/assumptions”, with those of the professionals…at the Visitor’s Center. A right turn it is, namely because we spy a Ranger led “pod” of people just leaving the Visitor’s Center a 1/2 mile away.

We walk upon the paved pathway that hugs the edges of what remains of the 800′ long ancient “condominium complex”. Perfectly level and hewn holes indicate where wooden logs were placed to support roofs and/or multi-level floors.

If you look and listen real closely, the remains of the stone and Adobe “bricks”, and remaining aging petroglyphs and pictographs enable your mind’s eye to fill in the “blanks”, and like a “time-machine” you are transported to a “fully” reconstructed 3D imagine of the Ancestral Pueblo people going about their daily routine. Past the Long House, is trail that leads to the Alcove House, that includes a reconstructed Kiva (believed to be a ceremonial structure).

To reach the structure a 140 ft ascent via 4 wooden ladders is required. It is apparent that ladders where a common functional and necessary accoutrement for the Ancestral Pueblo peoples, who I’m sure developed the ability to adroitly scramble up said ladders, hands free, with little to no effort or trepidation, similar to when I was kid and we played “roof tag” by running upon, 2×4 topped, 8ft tall wooden fences. I couldn’t do that now if you paid me…well maybe after significant practice. On second thought, Nope. Wouldn’t/couldn’t do it.

Upon making it to the Alcove House, there is a reinforced/repaired small Kiva and while you can’t venture into the Kiva, an interpretive panel explains it’s interior structure and contents found upon its discovery. Our timing thus far has been impecible. Just as we are done with our perusal, the “pod” of people arrive at the foot of the bottom ladders.


Up they begin to amble as we wait our turn to head down. Once down, we make our way toward the Visitor’s Center on a flat and easy trail. Evidence of a major monsoonal flow with left-over debris from flooding is strewn on the edges of the trail.


While the creek is but a trickle now, it’s route shows a much higher and “regular” volume, whereby the Ancestral Pueblo people most likely had “water-front” property for a good portion of their 400+ years (1150-1550) of inhabiting this canyon. We reach the Visitor’s Center, one of 31 buildings built by the CCC and still in use by the Park Service, although they were vacated, and the park closed to the public for a period during WWII (the strucutres were used to house scientists and personnel involved with the Manhattan Project). Inside the Visitor’s Center, the diaramas and interpretive displays are particularly informative.

It appears that we were mostly correct in our “assumptions”, as it relates to the construction of the Ansestral Pueblan “condos”. As we finish wandering the small but informative Visistor Center, my father appears, having just alighted from his crowded shuttle bus ride to canyon floor. More and more people arrive on their visit to Bandelier. For us, this place seems fairly remote, and we are suprised by the vigorous visitation.

img_20180917_130651291It is nearing noon, and after having already gone through the interpretive displays, we head off on the Falls Trail for a look at the falls (which were NOT running) and a peak at the Rio Grande. A volunteer docent allows us to use his trail guide, as long as we promise to return it. The difference, compared to the prior trails, is that this journey is one of geological exploration as opposed to archeological. We see examples of “tent rocks”, composite rocks and layering of ancient volcanic erruptions.

The fact that this creek is currently dry enables us to really examine the geological “history” of the “life” of this particular water cut path. Because of two significant fires to the area, the Cerro Grande Fire in May of 2000 (a “controlled” burn that got out of control) and the 2011 Las Conchas fire (tree fell on power lines and burned over 75% of the upper canyon) resulted in significant damage done to the vegetation and the soil which made for flashflooding of epic results during the heavy monsoon rainstorm of August 21, 2011, and another one in 2013.


Remaining portion of the Lower Falls trail, as it “empties” into the the Rio Grande

This flash flooding practically filled the canyon floor and further damaged the later portion of the Falls Trail, so that we could not walk past the Upper Falls to the Lower Falls and then down to the Rio Grande. We returned to the Visitor’s Center and returned our trail guide. We considered taking the shuttle back to the campground, however the bus was filled to the brim, and the thought of standing packed like sardines when we are perfectly able to walk, the now 3 miles, back up the Frey Trail to our campsite made our decision easier. As we exited the Visitor’s Center we lighted upon an Interpretitive Ranger eager to share her knowledge of this uniquie and special canyon. We walked and talked along the paved Main Loop Trail that leads to where we were to catch the Frey Trail. She told us of the Ancestral Pueblo people’s farming techniques where they planted crops in a simbiotic relationship methodology (ie. corn with beans, where the beans would grow up the corn stalks). How they had grid gardens that used low earthan walls or rocks for their perimeter to catch and slow the rainfall from washing away their seeds and seedlings, and how they used the local pumice churned into the plot’s soil to slow, “distribute” and/or retain, rainwater or watering by hand. She explained that most of what we see of the structures along the main loop has been excavated, and was mostly filled over with dirt and debris from 100’s of years of natural flooding of this canyon. They still have no definitive answers as to the explicit use of the round Kivas, some large and others much smaller. img_20180917_150000902What they do know is that on the canyon floor, in the late 1400’s (using the tree-ring method of dating via ceiling beam fragments) the bustling village of Tyuonyi was a thriving center of trade where they manufactured pottery, raised turkeys and rabbits, wove blankets and cultivated cotton. As one gentleman that accompanined us as we walked and talked with the Ranger, declared, “I don’t think of these people as primative anymore. This was a well thought out center of commerce.” While I never thought of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples, or any other First Nations peoples as primative, I can’t help but be amazed at the craftsmanship of their structures, which using available resources, were engineered with purpose and functionality, brilliantly in tune with their enviroment to include its seasons and the route of the sun over top of the canyon.


With extra knowledge in tow, we continued along the main loop trail toward the bottom of the Frey Trail, but not without climbing through, up, and into several more rehabilitated structures and cliff dwellings wherein it was obvious that they (Ancestral Pueblo people) were much shorter and smaller in stature than Paul or I. In fact, based on graves and artifacts they averaged 5’4″ which is similar to the size and stature of the European peoples during the same time period. Filled to the brim with new knowledge and prespective, we marched up the Frey Trail back to our campsite, excitedly discussing all that we had seen…an 11 mile day. Upon return to the campsite, further discussion continued as my father had had the luxury, and took the time, to read every article of information displayed in/on the Visitor Center interpretive displays. While we saw as much as we could in one day, this park beckons for another visit, particularly during an absent moon; to walk additional trails within Bandelier in hopes of encountering one or more of the 2,000 documented archeological sites; and/or experience this park in winter (it’s open all year long with the exception of Christmas day and New Years). It would be an interesting perspective to experience this park with a “blanket” of snow… and maybe even take a few runs at the Pajarito Ski area.

Tomorrow we head to Los Alamos to visit the Manhatten Project National Historical Park, and the Bradbury Science Museum, then on to Chaco Canyon.

Posted in Ancestral Pueblo People, Ancient Architecture, Bandelier National Monument, cliff dwellings, Mini Adventures, puebloan ancestors, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments